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#jboye09: Selecting a CMS - Pitfalls and Best Practices

#jboye09: Selecting a CMS - Pitfalls and Best Practices

We’re live from the City of Smiles, where the J. Boye conference kicked off today in Aarhus, Denmark. The first day is the Tutorial Day with topics ranging from content strategy and governance to persuading people with digital content.

One of the tutorials — CMS selection: the process, the pitfalls and the best practices — was presented by analysts Jarrod Gingras of CMS Watch and Peter Sejersen of J. Boye.

The session was prefaced with a statement that there’s no perfect system. Making your CMS requirements too special may make it nearly impossible to find a system that will fit them.

Dos and Don’ts in Choosing a CMS

When looking for a CMS, look for both a software vendor and a system integrator, if they’re not part of the same package. Make your project attractive for bidders. Make it easy for them.

Here are some additional dos and don'ts that were offered:

  • Do not employ a detailed scoring methodology
  • Do not develop a full list of requirements
  • Buy a scoping exercise before buying a full-blown
  • Control the dialog with vendors
  • Do not look beyond 3 years

What to consider:

  • Project timelines
  • Stakeholders
  • Budget
  • Creation of a business case
  • Objectives
  • Requirements
  • Marketplace
  • Process
  • Decisions

In the best cases 3-7 months, worst case a year or more, according to Sejersen, who quoted J. Boye’s report on Selecting a CMS. Your level of complexity will affect the timeline, added Gingras. This is not a trivial process, but you need to move fast. In EU, the open tender process may make the process even longer, when vendors have around 40 days to respond to your RFP.

Who Needs to be Involved

Marketing folks, developers, a project manager, system admins, application admins, website manager, etc. This mix of groups depends on your organization. Engaging the project champion and the project manager are absolute musts, said Gingras. It’s a political battlefield you want to navigate carefully, when many (or too many) people are involved and you need to make a decision. You need to communicate and make it clear what their role is. They’re not making the decision, but provide input.

Don’t select a CMS before developing your requirements. Gather the requirements only after the business case is completed. How do you justify acquiring a Web CMS system? There are 3 dimensions to a WCM Business Case:

  1. Greater efficiency and reducing costs and frustration largely through automation
  2. Reduce risks (a system can provide insurance, but also introduce new risks)
  3. Enhance value (look to get more value from your content, improve quality by implementing standards)

What Should be Included in the RFP?

Understand internally what you’re trying to achieve. The short and effective RFP is not more than 10 pages. It can start with a brief intro to the project and your organization and include project scope, goals and characteristics. As well as:

  • Specific needs and business scenarios
  • Technical architecture and standards
  • Structure and design of the platform
  • Role of the vendor
  • Schedule and evaluation criteria

Do not issue checklist RFPs – unless it is absolutely required in your organization. When vendors get it they throw it to the most junior person in the organization to fill out based on a previous example. In many cases not a lot of time get put into these answers, and the possibility of cut and paste from a previous checklist is higher. A checklist alternative is providing specific, testable scenarios. But don’t go overboard – 5 to 7 scenarios should be enough. Entering a CMS vendor contract, is like entering a marriage. You have to like the people you work with.

Key vendor differentiators:

  • Geography
  • Budget
  • Size
  • Technology
  • Vendor intangibles (chemistry, company focus, financials, trust, quality and experience)


You don’t want too many vendors on your shortlist. Somewhere between 5 and 7 vendors is ideal, and more than 10 is too much. Do your research and get input from blogs, peers, network and external analysts. Do not assume that there’s a best vendor/product. The analysts acknowledged that many reports and analyses exist but noted that they are useful as sources of information, but will not tell you which the best option is for your specific context.

Reading and Evaluating Proposals

After you get your RFPs back, look for indications of heavy copy and paste activities. More importantly, check if vendors understood your scenarios. Check their references. Many are willing to share their experiences (the good and the bad) and can provide candid feedback. And, of course, look for pricing and license models. Finally, develop an evaluation matrix, so that you don’t have to waste time on the losers.


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